• Published 2nd May 2013
  • 71,621 Views, 7,291 Comments

Stardust - Arad

Can Twilight earn the trust and friendship of people who are by nature suspicious and hostile to anything that isn't 'human'?

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07:45, 05/01/2015, STARDUST LABS

The stylus flew across Twilight’s tablet as she skimmed what was quickly becoming a massive list of new things to search for. Every answer she found seemed to lead to a dozen more questions. I will need to ask Charles some questions the next time I see him, though… there’s a lot of things that the tablet won’t let me see, she thought to herself. She was quick to tamp down on any suspicion she had as to why. I shouldn’t assume why that is. I’ll just ask Charles when I see him.

The soothing sounds of piano chords came from the tablet as her playlist advanced, and Twilight couldn’t resist closing her eyes and simply listening. It’s beautiful. Why would anypo—anything want to hurt people who were capable of making something like this? Twilight’s thoughts drifted to the Thin Man and how he had reacted to her simply saying hello. Why would he do that? No matter how hard Twilight tried to approach his behavior, she simply couldn’t accept such violence as being justifiable.

Almost as though it was anticipating her mood, the piano piece she had been listening to ended and another one started. Twilight loved this piece as much as the previous one but the chords led her mind down darker paths. She quickly switched to her playlist and advanced to the next song and her mood instantly brightened. Rainbow Dash would love this one, Twilight nodded along with the beat as the song picked up. They say the main instrumental was with a guitar, but I’ve never heard one quite like that one.

Any further music listening was interrupted as the door to Twilight’s habitat opened and Charles walked in with his customary smile and greeting, “Good morning, Twilight. How are you feeling this morning?”

“I’m doing great! Joel visited me yesterday and did something to the tablet so I could access something called the ‘internet’! It’s got answers for just about everything I have thought to ask it!” Twilight gushed, and her good mood was clearly infectious as Charles’ own grin grew in response.

“I’m very glad to hear that, Twilight. Though I should warn you not to trust everything you find there. You’ll find as much opinion as fact, so always be sure to double check your research before running off with an idea,” He warned as he took a seat at Twilight’s table.

“You don’t have to tell me twice! It’s standard research procedure to not accept any claim as fact unless it can be verified after all,” Twilight agreed, though she hesitated. “Um… Joel also mentioned that certain topics were restricted and I would need to ask someone about them if I wanted to know more. Can I ask you some questions?”

Charles nodded in response. “I’ll do my best to answer any questions you may have, though there will be some that I can’t answer, and others that I might not know the answer to. Just keep that in mind.”

“Great!” Twilight cheered and telekinetically pulled a stack of papers from her desk over to the table along with a pen, “I’ve made a list of things to ask! I’m also afraid I’ll need to use the translation spell just a bit longer. I don’t think my English is good enough for some of these questions.”

The human gave the stack of papers a somewhat dubious look before asking, “Are those all questions you had from searching the internet? Just how long were you searching?”

“Oh…about eight hours or so. These aren’t all questions pertaining to my internet searches. A fair portion of them are further questions based on theorized answers that the original questions would yield, followed by another set of questions, plus room for anything else I can think of while we talk… what? What is it?”

“Sorry, Twilight, I just forgot how enthusiastic you could be,” Charles scratched his chin and gave Twilight a shrug. “So, what’s the first question?”

“Well, my first question came from when I was searching for information about when your people went to the moon. I even got to see it for myself at a place called ‘Youtube’!” The unicorn rapidly explained, and was again rewarded with one of Charles’ smiles, but his smile dissipated before her eyes as her question came about. “I wanted to do some research on that time in your history and something called a ‘cold war’ was mentioned. What’s a cold war? I think my people had one, but what little I was able to learn doesn’t match what I know…”

Charles schooled his features carefully and for just a moment Twilight regretted asking about it, but the human rallied and cleared his throat. “I suppose a little bit of history is in order. About sixty years ago there were two great nations in the world, who found themselves opposed against each other. Both sides had grown so powerful that they began to fear for the fate of the world if a fighting war were to ever break out between them, so they resorted to less… overt ways to try and beat each other. Economics and allies and so forth.” The human seemed to stumble towards the end of his explanation before he asked a question of his own, “I’m surprised your people would have a cold war. From everything you’ve mentioned, it seems out of character.”

“Oh, it was thousands of years ago, before the reign of the Alicorns,” Twilight said casually, “The three tribes warred with each other, which attracted the Windigos that froze the land. So long as they continued fighting, the Windigos chased them and brought the winter as well. The Windigos were only defeated when the three tribes stopped fighting and worked together.”

“Banding together to fight a common enemy? I suppose I can understand the sentiment,” Charles commented distantly before he regained his focus. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to distract you from your questions. I’m assuming you have others?”

“Don’t apologize, Charles, you can ask me anything you want. It’s not fair for me to ask all the questions, after all. And yes, I do have some more topics to discuss.” Twilight quickly checked off several things on the first page before shuffling it to the bottom of the stack. “During our first card game we had a discussion about the ‘devil’ and you mentioned it being a figure in the Christian religion. I was able to find dozens of religions besides Christianity, and several versions of Christianity as well. Why is that?”

“Er…well,” Charles said as he glanced away. “I don’t know if I’m the best person to talk about that subject. Religion is a lot of different things to a lot of different people. If you were to ask ten different people you would likely get ten different answers. That’s probably why there’s so many. I’m afraid I’m not qualified to answer more detailed questions than that. Sorry, Twilight.”

Twilight nodded slightly, not disappointed by the answer. “I understand. From what I was able to find it seems to be a rather personal—“

The question was interrupted as the door to the habitat opened to reveal a stone-faced Doctor Vahlen. Her entire posture was stiff and tense, like Fluttershy had been before Twilight had befriended her, though there was nothing like demure shyness in the scientist's eyes. There was something… colder in its place.

“Doctor Shen,” Vahlen started as she walked into the room to stand before Charles, “I thank you for your service to this project thus far, but it is no longer necessary.”

“What? Why?” The note of surprise in the engineer’s voice was alarming as he stood to face Vahlen directly. Gone was the fatherly approval Twilight normally saw in him or even the unease he had displayed just a moment earlier. He didn’t look at the unicorn but she could see that something had set him on edge.

“The lack of meaningful breakthroughs has earned the enmity of the Council. This lack of results combined with the security breaches in the past and the likelihood of security breaches in the future is forcing me to recommend termination of the Stardust project. All research material and specimens are to be prepared for transfer to a secure holding facility. As I said, your services are no longer needed.”

Any ghost of the smile of Charles face was banished. “You cannot be serious. We’ve only scratched the surface of what we can learn from Twilight. I can’t believe you would throw away such an opportunity.”

“And I cannot believe you would allow yourself to become so attached to an alien test subject. You’re letting your personal losses cloud your judgement. I know why you’re doing this, I knew the moment you gave her the book.” Vahlen’s response was colder than anything Twilight had ever heard her say, and it gave her the slightest of chills even though it wasn’t being said to her.

Charles gritted his teeth and his expression turned into a glare. “Don’t go there, Moira. Don’t.”

“This creature is not your daughter or Ellie, and I understand that it might be therapeutic for you to act like it is. But it is not, and if you find yourself distressed by my words then you have only yourself to blame, Raymond.” Vahlen spat her reply, and her cold expression began to heat as well.

“You’re one to talk!” Charles nearly shouted back as he finally lost his patience. The harsh words, volume and tone caused Twilight to jerk backwards. “You accuse me of letting my personal feelings get in the way when I know exactly what you do every morning to get yourself angry enough to commit all the casual atrocities you do. Don’t think for a moment I don’t know. You came to me to get the call recordings, remember?”

“Bradford will support me on this,” Vahlen bit out each word as though she was restraining the impulse to scream them. The hand holding her tablet had gone white while her other hand shook at her side.

“The hell he will! And I doubt Erika or Klein would—“


Vahlen’s free hand flew through the air and slapped Charles across the face with a sharp retort. Any pretense at cool detachment crumbled as Vahlen screamed back, “DON’T YOU DARE BRING THEM INTO THIS!”

“Stop!” Twilight said as loud as she could muster in English. I have no idea what is about but I have to stop this! I have to! “Please stop fighting! Friends shouldn’t fight. You shouldn’t!” She could feel her lips quivering and her vision blurred. “Please stop fighting…” The last words were chased by a soft sob, but Twilight rallied and looked to the pair.

Charles had staggered back a step with one hand over the spot Vahlen had struck. His eyes were filled with a mixture of anger and shame as he regained his footing and looked to the scientist. Twilight did as well, and what she saw did not bring her any comfort.

The anger of the moment was gone, as well as the cool demeanor the scientist had cultivated for the majority of the time Twilight had seen her. Her eyes were wide and locked on Twilight and her face had grown very pale. Both of her arms had crossed in front of her with the tablet against her chest like some sort of shield. Her head began to shake in some form of unspoken denial as she took a step backward. She took another step backwards, then turned and strode through the habitat door.

“I’m…sorry you had to see that, Twilight.” Charles said with a note of sincere apology in his voice. “I’m sorry, Twilight, but I don’t think I’ll be able to answer any more questions.”

“I’m not worried about questions, I’m worried about you!” Twilight abandoned her chair and planted herself directly in front of Charles. “Does that hurt? Why would she hit you? And what was that argument about?”

“I’m fine, Twilight. I really am.” Charles forced a smile and tried to go around the unicorn, but she moved to further block his path.

“Why did she call you ‘Raymond’? And who’s Ellie? I saw both of those names in the book you gave me. Talk to me, Charles! Please!”

The engineer’s smile faltered and died completely as he heard those two names again, and he sank heavily into his chair. He covered his face with his hands for a minute before he finally replied. “Twilight… I… I’m sorry. If I tell you, you must promise to never bring it up ever again, alright?”

Twilight merely nodded in response and took her seat again. “I don’t mean to pry, but I could tell that what she said hurt you. If you don’t want to talk about it then you don’t have to. I just want to help.”

“I know you want to help, Twilight. That’s the only reason I’m even considering telling you. It’s… a hard story for me to share.” Charles pulled his hands away from his face and Twilight couldn’t help but feel a pang of sympathy for the sheer amount of despair written on his face. “I had a daughter named Marie. She used to call me Papa Ray or Rayman when she was younger because she thought it was funnier than Raymond. You two would have gotten along so well. She was brilliant at mathematics and languages. She always said that math was the most important language in the world because one plus one is always two no matter what language you speak.”

Charles slipped his glasses off his face and placed them on the table before continuing, “She grew up and met a brilliant young man and they got married. As a father I couldn’t have been more proud. My little girl all grown up, you know? When she called me to say that her own child was on the way, I could have burst. They named her Ellie, and I expect she would have been just as bright and beautiful as my daughter.

“They’re not with me anymore. What I mean to say is… they died.” Charles closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “I never got to know Ellie, and that’s a regret I’ll take with me to the grave. However I think she would have been a lot like you, and she would have liked you too. Vahlen’s right in the end, I suppose.”

Twilight’s eyes widened as he finished his story. “I’m sorry, Charles. I’m so sorry.”

“That’s… alright, Twilight,” Charles said as he slowly stood and placed the glasses back on his head. Twilight started to rise as well but stopped when the human waved her down. “All I ask is that you never mention this to anyone or use that name again. I’m afraid that I’m going to have to go now to call in a favor, and give a few out as well.”

Without another word Charles left the habitat, leaving Twilight behind to worry about her very first human friend.


08:45, 05/01/2015, OFFICE OF CMDR BRADFORD

David Bradford started on his fifth cup of coffee of the day as he continued to review the slurry of emails the research teams were sending his way. Immediately following his meeting with the Council he had sent a message to the Stardust researchers asking for their recommendations on the future of the project. One of Ngo’s people had replied with almost indecent haste, and the steady trickle of further messages had kept Bradford from heading to bed.

He had left to grab breakfast just over an hour earlier and upon his return there had been two messages received during his absence. The first he had expected but the second most certainly was not.

“Enter,” Bradford said absently almost before he heard the first knock. He looked up to see a somewhat sheepish-looking Shen push the door open and close it behind him. His discretion wasn’t out of the ordinary, but the ice pack he now held against his face certainly was. “Are you alright, Charles?”

“Oh, I’ve had better days,” Shen said with a self-deprecating chuckle as he took a seat in front of Bradford’s desk. “Was working on one of the SHIVs and the turret actuator had a little episode. Turret assembly swung around and clocked me. It’ll bruise a bit but I’ve had worse.”

“I…see,” Bradford said after a long moment, then dropped the issue. “What can I do for you?”

“Well, I had a little chat with Moira, and it seems the fate of the Stardust project is in doubt. I know I have no official say over research projects, but I cannot stress enough that shutting down that project will be a terrible mistake,” Charles spoke evenly and fixed Bradford with a look. “From my position as chief engineer, I feel that with Twilight’s cooperation we can eventually master a power that surpasses anything we could achieve by ourselves, or even the invaders. And…if Twilight’s safety cannot be assured without the Stardust Project, then I am afraid I can no longer work here.”

The last statement caught Bradford’s attention, as did the conviction it was delivered with. “I understand, Charles, and I thank you for coming to me with your recommendation. It seems that Dr. Vahlen’s revised recommendation will suit all parties in this matter.”

Shen had just started to wind up what was likely an impassioned plea but the words died as he realized just what Bradford had said. “I don’t think I understand. Just what did Moira recommend?”

“That the Stardust Project continues as it has.” Of all the things Bradford could have said, he greatly suspected that was the last thing Shen expected him to say.

“Ah, well. It seems I was a little premature in coming here then. I must have misunderstood Moira during our conversation,” Charles said with a stunned look on his face. “Well, I’d best get back to it. Let me know if you need anything, David.” The aging engineer then turned and left the office, leaving Bradford alone with what was quite possibly the two most conflicting messages he had ever received.

FROM: Cmdr. David Bradford
TO: Stardust Personnel
DATE: 05/01/2015, 00:15
SUBJECT: Recommendations

The Council has expressed concerns regarding the current progress of the Stardust project, and have suggested more direct methods of working with the subject of the project at a more secure location. Before I make my decision I would like feedback from all researchers involved.

Cmdr. David Bradford

FROM: Dr. Moira Vahlen
TO: Cmdr. David Bradford
DATE: 05/01/2015, 07:50
SUBJECT: RE: Recommendations

There are no current projections for substantive breakthroughs for the Stardust project as both the abilities it demonstrates defy all forms of detection, and the specimen itself has refused to comply with all of our instructions in demonstrating its abilities. The specimen has also shown new abilities on an almost daily basis without concern for the targets of these abilities despite being told not to do so.

Furthermore, the specimen is providing a significant distraction for the research personnel involved. Significant amounts of time are spent conversing with the specimen which amounts to little more than gossip when they could be directed to more fruitful endeavors such as decrypting the alien flight computers or interrogation of fresh specimens retrieved from the field.

In summary, at this time I recommend that the Stardust program be terminated and the specimen transferred to the new location for processing as it is providing little benefit to XCOM as a whole at this time.

Dr. Moira Vahlen

FROM: Dr. Moira Vahlen
TO: Cmdr. David Bradford
DATE: 05/01/2015, 08:42
SUBJECT: RE: Recommendations

I have reviewed previous research material and have reconsidered my previous position. As I am certain that the other researchers have come to their recommendations with opinions and emotion to guide them, I feel it is my duty to provide a recommendation based on reason: A threat assessment.

1.) The subject, Twilight Sparkle, is a creature capable of things that we cannot reproduce naturally or artificially. While I have no doubts that the facility the subject would be sent to would be extremely secure by our standards, I have little faith it could hold her for long. Removing her from the environment she is comfortable in will no doubt agitate her, and if she feels threatened enough to defend herself then a significant loss of life and resources is extremely likely.
2.) Twilight Sparkle’s method of arrival on Earth highlights several serious concerns, especially when combined with her familial and professional relations in the upper echelons of her world’s government. Considering her brother’s high placement in the military and married into nobility, her childhood friend who is part of the nobility, her status as personal student of the current ruler and her status as a paragon of her people, it is far more logical to prepare for when her people find her, not if.
3.) Should the previous point come to pass and Twilight is damaged or dead, the best case we could hope for would be a second front opening up in this invasion where the standard enemy infantry possesses more physical strength and speed than Chryssalids, more nimble flight than Floaters, and far more terrifying and effective mental powers than the Sectoids. The amount of time humanity could hold in such a conflict would be significantly reduced.
4.) The worst case that could come to pass would be that if Twilight’s reports on her mentor are accurate. Princess Celestia is described as a multi-millennia ruler of her world that is capable of moving the star in her system with nothing but her powers. If this ruler were to appear on Earth and find her protégé damaged or dead, there is absolutely nothing XCOM could do to prevent Celestia from hurling the Earth into the sun if she so chose.
5.) If the forces of Twilight’s world appear on Earth and find her healthy and well-cared-for, we may have a powerful ally.

At this time I recommend the Stardust project be continued for the foreseeable future. The risks in altering the current program far outweigh any potential benefits that might be gained from harsher interrogation methods.

Dr. Moira Vahlen


17:56, 05/01/2015, SENIOR STAFF QUARTERS


>>THREE (3) IDENTIFIED VOICES: Dr. Moira Vahlen (MV), Klein Vahlen (KV), Erika Vahlen (EV)

(EV)--"Hello, this is the Vahlen residence. Who is calling?"
(MV)--"It's Aunt Moira... is that little Erika I hear?"
(EV)--"Auntie M! It's been forever since we heard from you! Dad says you're doing big stuff to save the world! Is that true?"
(MV)--"Yes, I suppose it is, dear. Is your dad home? I would like to speak with him."
(EV)--"Sure, one second. Daddy! It's aunt Moira on the phone!"
(KV)—(background) “Don’t yell in the house, dear. The phone is cordless, just bring it to me…Yes? That you, Moira?”
(MV)—“Yes, it is. I hope I’m not calling at a bad time?”
(KV)—“Oh it’s no trouble. I know your job is a bit strict about contact so I understand you have to call when they say you can.”
(MV)—“When you say it like that you make me feel like the villain.”
(KV)—“You know what I mean. Don’t be obtuse.” (laughter)
[Background voice (BV) detected, synthetic in nature]—“Sodium.”
(MV)—“Oh dear, obtuse is a large word. Keep working on your vocabulary and I might admit being related to you.”
(KV)—“It was on my word-a-day calendar, sister dear. We all know you sucked up all the smart genes in the family gene pool.”
(MV)—“Oh I don’t know about that. Erika’s math scores on her most recent tests are two grade levels higher than where she’s currently at. I suspect with a little help she’ll be taking algebra before she reaches middle school. All she needs now is a good tutor in the sciences and she’ll be fine.”
(KV)—“I’ll admit, she does her father proud…wait, how do you know about her school scores? The finals aren’t supposed to be released until next week.”
(MV)—“Well…you know I’ve got friends from university working in Germany. I contacted them and they asked politely for a sneak peak.”
(MV)—“Is it wrong for an aunt to be curious about the academic performance of her dear niece?”
(KV)—“I think it’s wrong when you break the law in doing so. Bribery or extortion?”
(MV)—“Extortion is such an ugly word.”
(MV)—“I’m sorry, Klein, but I worry for Erika.”
(KV)—“Moira, that’s my job. I’m her father. You’re her aunt. You’re supposed to spoil her rotten during visits and nothing more.”
(MV)—“Oh bah, that’s nonsense. I want to be involved as much as I can.”
(KV)—“Then why don’t you have a kid of your own? You know mom always wanted you to settle down and raise a family of your own.”
(MV)—“You know the answer to that. My career is too important right now, and besides—“
(KV)—“—there’s no man out there who’s an intellectual match for you?”
(MV)—“Yes, that.”
(KV)—“Why don’t you just adopt, then? Or, hell, get a pet or something. Seriously, before you took your new job the neighbors were starting rumors that I was being unfaithful to my wife because some strange woman kept coming by.”
(MV)—“Well, you are the sort.”
(KV)—“Sister dear, don’t be obtuse again. Every time you visited to see Erika the neighbors gossiped. You know I hate gossip. Seriously though, have you even considered adoption?”
(MV)—“We both know that would be a bad idea in the long run. With my career I don’t have the time to adequately raise a child. But I can do everything possible to help Erika become everything she wants to.”
(KV)—“Speaking of which, thank you so much for buying her that keyboard. She’s always loved music, but adding a special setting where the keys are replaced with elements has gotten her a little more interested in the sciences. It’s just…”
(KV)—“You know what I’m going to say. The moment you have kids, I’m buying them a big snare drum.”
(MV)—“Speaking of, have you given any consideration to my previous offer?”
(KV)—“No, Moira. I’m her father and I’ll provide for her myself.”
(KV)—“No buts, Moira. I’ll admit I don’t think I’ll ever make as much as you do, but this is my family and I will provide for it. I thank you for your offer and I will also thank you for never bringing it up again.”
(EV)—(background) “Daddy? Are you two fighting?”
(KV)—“No, dear. Go back to your keyboard.”
(EV)—(background)“You should stop fighting! You’re family! Family shouldn’t fight!”
(KV)—“Dear, we’re not fighting. I promise, sweetie. Go back to your keyboard.”
(EV)—(background)”Not until you both apologize.”
(KV)—“Well there’s no arguing with that. Moira, I’m sorry for getting angry with you.”
(MV)—“And I apologize for being so insistant.”
(EV)—(background)”There, all better!”
(KV)—“…are we good then, Moira?”
(MV)—“I guess so. I won’t press the matter again, but if you need anything, you give me a call and I’ll do everything I can.”
(KV)—“You’ll be the first…what in god’s name is that?”
(MV)—“Hm? What’s wrong?”
(KV)—“There are shooting stars, but they’re huge…”
[phone audio cuts out for 1.7 seconds due to audio overload]
(MV)—“Klein! Klein! Can you hear me?”
(KV)—“I’m here, Moira. Something crashed down the street…it looks like metal.” [Door opens and closes]
(MV)—“Klein, what are you doing? Get back in the house, now!”
(KV)—“I’m still on the stoop, there’s nothing to worry about. Though the thing is starting to spew green smoke. It’s…the smoke isn’t moving with the wind. What’s it—“
(MV)—“Klein? KLEIN!”
[9.4 seconds pass]
(EV)—“Aunt Moira?”
(MV)—“Erika? Oh thank God. Where are you now?”
(EV)—“By the front door. Daddy went outside and now there’s all this green smoke and he hasn’t come back in. Should I go looking for him?”
(MV)—“NO. Erika, daddy’s fine. I need you to listen very carefully, okay? I need you to lock all the doors and windows in the house, then go and hide in the cupboard underneath the staircase.”
(EV)—“What? Why? And where’s daddy? If I lock the doors then he can’t get back in.”
(MV)—“Erika, listen to me! Your dad is fine but you need to lock all the doors right now and make sure all the windows are closed. You have to do this now!”
[10.7 seconds pass]
(EV)—“All the doors are locked, and the windows too. What’s going on? This is starting to scare me…”
(MV)—“Don’t be scared, Erika. You’re a big girl and you’re doing a great job so far. Can you make it back downstairs to the cupboard?”
(EV)—“Yes, I can. What’s going on, Moira?”
(MV)—“I’ll explain later, just get to the cupboard.”
(EV)—“I’m almost there…huh, there’s someone knocking at the door. Maybe it’s daddy!”
(EV)—“What’s…it’s breaking down the door! It’s a monster! Ohnonono, help me!”
[Sounds of wood splintering]
[Unknown sound]
[Sound recognition using current information… sound recognized: Chryssalid]
(EV)—“Help me! DADDY HELP—“
(MV)—“Erika! …Erika?”


Moira Vahlen dropped her head into her hands and wept.


02:35, 05/02/2015, STARDUST LABS

Twilight awoke with a start.

She had been dreaming of…something. It wasn’t a nightmare, at least not the one she usually had. Ugh, I just wish I could consistently get a decent night’s sleep. The unicorn stretched and shuffled out of bed towards her sink. She began to fill her cup with water as she lazily looked around the room. Her eyes traced the darkened forms of her friends, then the princesses, then the drawings of Equestrian wildlife. I really miss home.

I feel sorry for Charles. And Matt. These are good people…but I want to go home, Twilight absently rubbed her eyes and tried not to dwell on what both men had told her in the last few days. Tomorrow I’ll ask if I can start doing research into how to get home.

With her now full glass of water Twilight shuffled over towards her desk for some late night internet browsing when she stopped and looked to the side. A figure was sitting at her guest table, silent and unmoving. Twilight’s reaction was quite natural.

“EEP!” She yelped and the glass of water clattered to the floor. At the same time a telekinetic jab pressed into the light switch hard enough to push the switch and its fixture a quarter inch into the wall. The lights flicked on and as Twilight’s eyes adjusted she could better make out the features of this mystery person.

It was female, and clad in loose and baggy green clothes similar to what Matt and Lana wore but without all the pockets and pouches. Her brown hair was also loose and hung almost to her shoulders. Her face was a terrible mess, with red puffy eyes and an enflamed nose that betrayed a significant amount of crying recently, and she held a tablet in front of her chest and behind her crossed arms like a shield or piece of armor.

The last mannerism was what finally caused Twilight to recognize her late night visitor. “D-doctor Vahlen? Uh… can I h-help you?” Vahlen’s worn eyes fell upon Twilight and the unicorn couldn’t help but feel a pang of sympathy for whatever she was going through. There was anguish in those eyes. Suspicion too. And desperation.

“Or did you want to talk about something?” Twilight ventured awkwardly as she used telekinesis to pull the water off the floor and drop it down the sink drain before she shuffled slowly over to the desk.

“Are you real?” Vahlen asked after a long moment of simply staring at the unicorn. “I mean, is this what you really are? Just a lost little girl? Nothing more?”

“W-well, I don’t think I’m little. I’m no foal. But I am lost so I guess that’s pretty much accurate. Why?” Twilight replied as she kept her eyes on the human. With every word the scientist seemed to cringe and cling more tightly to the tablet between her arms.

“I…” Vahlen swallowed before her next words came out in a flood. “I wanted to hate you. I want to hate you so much! You’re not human, you came here uninvited and people are dying every day because of the invaders and we still don't know why! Every single day more people die. I can’t carry a gun or fly a plane but I can tear their bodies to pieces to know how they think and live. It’s what I do. It’s all I can do!”

Twilight’s eyes had gone wide as Vahlen continued to rant but she remained silent.

“It was so easy to justify it. They killed so many, they killed my little Eri… so it was easy to hate them. To do unspeakable things to them. I could have gone on and saved humanity by taking the aliens' secrets from their flesh and minds by force. But then you come along! You… you…”

“I’m sorry,” Twilight apologized, though she had no idea why. It just felt right to do so. “I don’t know what I’ve done wrong but if you tell me then I can do better! Or do you need me to do more? What do you wa—“

“STOP.” Vahlen shrieked, and her head drooped as she began to sob. “How can you be like that? So willing to apologize to me? I’m a monster, I’ve done terrible things to the invaders. To you. How can you be so… nice? To everyone? To me? Why?”

“Everyone deserves another chance,” Twilight said solemnly. A long moment of silence passed while Twilight simply sat as Vahlen’s shoulders slowly stopped shaking. “Are you alright?”

The scientist slowly rose and turned away from Twilight. After placing her tablet on the table she gathered up her hair in a practiced motion and clipped it in place before turning back. “Thank you for this discussion, Twilight. It was extremely enlightening for me. I will have to ask you to keep the content of this discussion private.”

Twilight was already nodding before the request was complete. “I understand…” Charles asked the same thing. “I don’t want to sound demanding but the next time you see Charles, could you please apologize to him? Friends shouldn’t fight like that.”

Vahlen’s face was a study in shock at the words, but she quickly composed herself and nodded. “I will as soon as I see him. Now I’m afraid I’ve…wait, what’s that?”

Twilight blinked and looked up to see what appeared to be a small black cloud no larger than her hoof appearing above the table that she sat at. Before anyone could speak or act, the cloud coughed green flames and out spat a large bundle of rolled scrolls on faded yellow parchment. Each one was wrapped in a red ribbon and clasped with a small brass clip with a very familiar design.

“What!?” Vahlen exclaimed, and her earlier mood nearly vanished with the surprise, “Where did these come from? Did you do this?”

“No, I didn’t do this,” Twilight replied as she used her telekinesis to grab the first wrapped scroll and opened it. The letter began to shake in the air and the unicorn continued, “And these are from my friends.”